Earlier this week I had a chat with Evan from SB Nation's Packers blog ahead of this weeks match-up. I tried to avoid a certain someone as I'm sure everyone else is as bored talking about him as I am, and he's in the past for both teams. However the Packers were my NFC pick to make the Superbowl, and to be honest they still are. However injuries are threatening that, and they'll be hoping their trip to New York is a healthy one. Evan will be posting up my answers to 5 questions he had for Gang Green Nation soon, so remember to pop over to Acme Packing Company and keep in mind what we talked about regarding personal conduct on opposing teams blogs:
GGN: Green Bay are really struggling with injuries at the minute, and it seems especially along the defensive line. How are you looking health wise for Sunday's game and are the defensive line injuries worrying when you think of the offensive line you'll be facing this week?
APC: The defense as a whole has been hit hard with injuries, but the D-line is mostly suffering from depth players being banged up. While the starting three of DEs Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins and NT B.J. Raji are all still healthy enough to play, rookie DE Mike Neal and perennial IR-filler Justin Harrell are both out for the season. The problems arise when we turn to DEs Jairus Wynn or C.J. Wilson to give the others a rest. While they have some talent, they're young and inexperienced. I'd argue that the bigger problem is the slew of injuries in the linebacking corps. Clay Matthews is back and effective, but with starters Nick Barnett and Brad Jones out along with multiple backups, guys besides Clay need to step up and make some plays.
GGN: Do you believe that Green Bay will stack the box and force Mark Sanchez to beat you? How do you think the Packers will try and stop the Jets offence?
APC: With the effectiveness of the Jets' running game thus far, I have to expect that the defense will be focused on that phase of New York's offense. Our rushing defense, which led the league a year ago, has suffered and is now ranked in the 20s. Much of the issue, however, has been allowing opposing quarterbacks to roam free during broken plays (see Vick, Michael, week 1). Fill-in SS Charlie Peprah has looked like a capable tackler recently and I expect him to be heavily involved in the run defense, leaving FS Nick Collins to play center field. Expect to see Charles Woodson all over the field as well, and often helping out in run support. As for the passing game, I have faith in Chuck and fellow corner Tramon Williams to contain the Jets' wideouts, who don't really strike fear into me...it's Dustin Keller matched up with our linebackers that I'm most concerned about.
GGN: Do the Packers often run from max protection schemes? It is known that the Jets will bring the house on many downs and on more than a few occasions teams have been forced to leave extra men in to block to protect the QB, will Green Bay do this or is Aaron Rodgers trusted to get the ball out quickly and then avoid any hits?
APC: In general, the tight ends in the Packers' system tend to be weapons in the passing game rather than protectors for Rodgers, who is earning more trust this season by having a quicker mental clock in the pocket. The running backs are more often used as the blockers, chipping on linemen and picking up blitzers. It certainly seems that Rodgers has taken fewer sacks this season vs. a year ago, partially thanks to getting rid of the ball faster, but also due to more continuity on his offensive line. But at times, this comes at the cost of incompletions. Last week against Minnesota, Rodgers threw several quick, back-shoulder, hot-read passes that missed because he and his receivers weren't on the same page. I expect that to be a focus in practice this week, for the communication to improve, and for that part of the passing game to become more effective.
GGN: The Packers seem to have been a little inconsistent this season, wins against the Lions/Eagles and then losses against the Dolphins/Redskins. What do the Packers need to do to win on a consistent basis and can you see them doing that this season?
Inconsistency has been this team's M.O. The Packers' three losses were each settled on a field goal on the last play of the game; if we ignore the blowout win against Buffalo, our other three wins come by a combined margin of 13 points. It's pretty clear to me that this team can play with anyone, but isn't good enough to pull away from anyone but the Bills
. I wish I could find some statistical trend for the games won vs. those lost, but nothing really jumps off the page. It just seems to come down to which team performs best in crunch time, and so far, both the Packers' offense and defense have been inconsistent towards the end of games. With a talented roster that's been hit hard by so many injuries, I can't really see that changing drastically in either direction.
GGN: With so many injuries I'm sure there are a few players who are flying under the NFL radar who you are keeping an eye on. Give us one player on offence and one player on defence to watch out for in this game who we might not look for usually.
APC: On defense, it's easy. Desmond Bishop isn't a household name, but he made a statement in prime time last Sunday with his pick-six off Jenn Sterger's former texting buddy, Brett Favre. Bishop has been stepping up big in the ILB spot opposite A.J. Hawk since Nick Barnett went down and even before the interception, I was ready to call him my player of the game because of the solid coverage and teeth-rattling hits he was providing.
On offense, I'll mention the same player I did before last week's game: TE Andrew Quarless. He's another raw, athletic TE prospect who is cut from the Jermichael Finley mold and needs to fill that middle of the field receiving role. Quarless did "catch" a controversial touchdown last week (on a gorgeous throw from Rodgers), although Brad Childress evidently forgot that instant replay exists and neglected to throw his red flag on a play that would easily have been overturned.